Fighting Poverty with Virtue
Moral Reform and America’s Urban Poor, 1825–2000
The emergence, decline, and resurgence of moral reform in addressing urban poverty in the
This book is both a historical and a contemporary study of attempts to promote the self-reliance and prosperity of America’s urban poor by encouraging the practice of familiar virtues such as diligence, sobriety, thrift, and familial responsibility. In Part One Joel Schwartz considers the efforts of four 19th-century moral reformers who expounded this strategy—Joseph Tuckerman, Robert M. Hartley, Charles Loring Brace, and Josephine Shaw Lowell. Schwartz examines what they did (and why they did it), the obstacles they faced, their successes and failures in confronting them. Part Two describes the 20th-century critique of moral reform. Drawing from the work of figures such as Jane Addams, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Frances Fox Piven, Schwartz traces the rise of a belief that the virtues promoted by the moral reformers were individualistic and "bourgeois," hence inapplicable to the lives of the poor. Part Three assesses African Americans’ historical commitment to the virtues of the moral reformers, which are apparent in the writings of figures as divergent as Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Dubois, and Malcolm X. Moving to the present, the author discusses the renewed commitment to a self-help strategy for fighting poverty evident in the widespread interest in the work of faith-based charities and in recent shifts in public policy. He concludes by assessing the reasons to be hopeful, but also to be skeptical, of the success of that strategy.
Joel Schwartz is a program officer in the Division of Research Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities and a contributing editor of Philanthropy. In addition to teaching political science at the universities of Michigan, Toronto, and Virginia, he has served as executive editor of The Public Intere